Struggling for perfection but my artist keeps getting in the way
Alanna King is an agent of change in Ontario’s Upper Grand District School Board. She works tirelessly to improve availability and access to resources in all media forms in her secondary school library learning commons. Alanna is proud to represent the Central West region with the Ontario School Library Association and can best be found on Twitter @banana29
In 2004, we had somehow managed to get (and stay) pregnant during a conjugal visit while Dad was away at teacher’s college 3 hours north for the year. We were paying rent on two different apartments, I was massively pregnant and leaving teaching for maternity leave, Dad was looking for a first-time teaching job and we needed to leave our cute apartment for something with onsite laundry. When we first had our son, we were living in an apartment in the countryside above a 3-car garage. In August it looked fantastic: 2 bedrooms, storage, parking and laundry, and peace and quiet.
By December, my son was all ready to meet those tummy-time goals but I was afraid to put him down on the freezing cold floor. As anyone who has ever explored their abdominal core muscles will tell you, you need a soft but not too soft surface to be able to press into. I couldn’t both warm up the floor area and provide those conditions so I truly believe that I didn’t give him enough floor time. These are the manic thoughts of a new mother. Yet when he struggles now to do something at age 14, this lack of tummy-time is one of those things I still beat myself up about. We moved into our first house a few months later.
When my son was about 3 years old, the staff at our publicly-subsidized childcare centre noticed some differences. One of them was that he hid under the table with his hands over his ears during fire drills, rather than listening to the instructions about how to leave the room. Another difference was that he was having a really hard time using scissors. My thought was “Scissors! I’ve never given my child scissors! They’re sharp! What could he possibly need to cut at the age of 3?” Well, as a secondary educator of over 20 years that shows you what I know about preschool and primary curriculum. Zero. Zilch. Bupkis. Everything I’ve learned is through the eyes of a parent of a son with special needs.
One of the choices we made many years later was to live on a cul-de-sac with very little traffic. When viewing the house I could overlook all sorts of other problems with the house because I was imagining the safety and security that our son would have playing on that street. It’s a sort of fortress to invite people into or keep bad things out. In fact, other families come down to our end of the circle to learn how to rollerblade, or to jump on the snow pile or to learn how to bike. Maybe all parents feel this way, but in a neighbourhood like ours, the kids growing up together, all seem to hit a lot of the same milestones together. Except for our son. It’s those goddamn milestones that separate us.
Blogger Andrea Haefele shared a post this week which included a video called Ian by TheCGBros which is award-winning for its animation. Just take 10 minutes to watch so you can kind of get into the headspace of where I am today in writing this post.
Andrea’s post tackles the idea of an accessible playground which is working really well for her child, but how the culture of other families still needs to be adjusted. So our friend Doug Peterson picked up this blog post and one of mine to talk about special education this week, and his guests picked up on a key theme right away: It’s not about the rocket ship (or playground or the cul-de sac) it’s about changing the culture.
To me what is so brilliant about the movie Ian is that the character tries multiple times to be that difference maker himself. But not until his new friends experience what life is like on the other side of the fence, can they really understand the barriers that he is facing.
Likewise, the cul-de-sac couldn’t provide the answers for our son as he watched the other neighbourhood kids get their first vehicles: scooters, skateboards, and anything that involved being mobile at high speeds. We got him a mountain bike. We tried balancing and teaching, but sometimes the cul-de-sac feels like a fishbowl where all the neighbours can watch you try and fail. So our son has balance issues, and anxiety about balance. He couldn’t seem to feel comfortable enough with his feet at a low enough seat level to touch the ground and at the same time high enough to give him room to pedal. My rheumatoid arthritis means I just can’t hang on to the back of the bike very long without pain so our spurts of running with me hanging onto the back for stability were very short. He was crying, I was crying. It sucked ass.
We got him a Plasmacar. Very cool, and easy to use right away. He was zooming down the driveway into the circle immediately. It just wasn’t very fast….very juvenile. I mean look at the age of the kids in these promo pictures. The neighbourhood kids on bikes younger and older than my son soon were even further apart in cool points.
An important parenting lesson I’ve learned: sometimes you just need to farm out the teaching to other teachers. He clings to me and cries and then that breaks my heart and I just enable the clinging. One of the best things that one of our first caregivers taught me: just let him go as if putting him into the arms of someone else was the most natural thing ever. Prolonging the handing over made it worse to say good-bye, for both of us, than ever. I have always been REALLY choosy about who babysat or got to work with my son. If you’re on the shortlist, you know you’ve gone through rigorous scrutiny to be there.
Insert: Kidsability. I’ve ranted about the distance we travel for quality programming for my son before but there are sometimes when it is just worth it. So I committed that I would join my son in my running shoes and drive the distance to the program every day and not take off during the 3 hours to do errands for a week so that he could learn how to ride a bike in their program. As usual when we arrived, I am immediately struck by how easy my life is. There are parents and children with way more challenges than we have. It’s continually humbling to work with and near children with developmental challenges. I love it.
We arrived at the designated arena and a Kidsability staff member, an I Can Bike staff person and a young, athletic volunteer were assigned to us. That’s a ratio of 3 helpful people to 1 child…and then as I hoped/feared, I was asked to watch from behind the plexiglass. Being peripheral is both liberating and exhausting. I can see him, he can see me, but the distance is enough that he realizes that he has to meet the challenge, and I realize that I need to respect the process and not ‘be helpful/in the way’. Oh yeah, they also loaned him this bike and had a full-time technical staff that were constantly making adjustments to the vehicles to individualize them for the kids. Keys to making it work: upright body position (not mountain bike), BMX-style handles so that hands are comfortably able to grip, and the there are no brakes on here yet….we eventually went to hand brakes. You can’t just walk into Canadian Tire and buy this model off the rack.
This is Day 1. See what they do here? They test out a back wheel roller which is going to slow down the bike, stabilize it and give him some immediate confidence. Teaching reflection point: how many times do we offer our students an opportunity to really shine before increasing the difficulty? My son in this picture is showing you that he feels safe, and cool and confident. The I Can Bike program makes adjustments to that particular bike two or three times in a session. The person in the red shirt is a volunteer that ran with his bike for the full 3 hours. He had a fresh volunteer the full time.
Here is day 3. I just want to repeat that for emphasis: Day 3. In about 7 hours, this program has taught my kid to ride a real bike. My post of that day says this: “What did you today? I watched my kid ride a bike for the first time!!! Thanks Kidsability and I Can Shine.” I’m sweaty, I’m bawling my eyes out, I’m sitting behind the plexiglass, and there is a Kidsability person near me to hold my hand and I am so glad that I didn’t go grocery-shopping and miss this moment. He’s shouting: “I found my balance!”
Fortunately for our son, Dad is a mechanical monster so he went to the local scrap heap with a former bike-crazy student and sourced a comfortable frame, BMX-style handlebars, painted it colours like Ironman for cool points, and bought a squishy seat. Since then we’ve always modified for hand brakes. That’s the ticket. Our kid has grown up in the neighbourhood with the rest of them riding bikes.
So if you want to make a difference: give a kid some wheels. Any way you need to.
When the political world beckons me to pick sides and arm myself, I conscientiously reflect on my purpose and my goals as a teacher-librarian. I also surround myself with like-minded idealists, searching for ways to not only make sense of the turmoil, but also to develop a solid plan for staff and students. Some of this professional reflection is mandated, but most of it is self-selected and self-driven. Through various professional development activities, I am able to use a range of cost and delivery models to satisfy the diversity of my PD goals each year. Even when funding and traditional PD offerings become scarce, school library staff have a rich abundance of PD opportunities to gorge themselves on.
In Ontario, I am required to complete an Annual Learning Plan (ALP) for my administration in which I outline my goals for the year in professional growth. I attach my ALP to my budget proposal for the school library as department head, and then the real work begins of achieving some forward movement. One of my key planning tools is Leading Learning (2018), and I go through the levels of achievement in each category with my library colleagues and my administration. Teacher-librarian Sharon Seslija describes the necessity of tying standards to the review process with this visual:
In this visual, Seslija outlines her team’s goals as they endeavour on a system-wide review of the effectiveness of school libraries, but the elements are similar to my goals each year. I consider the different ways I can grow but also how I can share this learning to further develop my administrator’s goals, always keeping in mind that advocacy for the school library is continual. Because I am drawn to the innovative tool and the disruptive pedagogy and because I am passionate about fundamental and emerging literacies, working in the school library for a decade now, tests the full-range of my skills. In their paper produced for Treasure Mountain Canada 2016, school library educators Sandra Bebbington, Ellen Goldfinch and Julian Taylor describe the teacher-librarian’s mandate for professional learning this way:
In order to be able to meet the needs of our school communities and remain relevant in this day and age, it is imperative that we as school library personnel, whether at the school or board level, make efforts to remain avant-garde and innovative. In order to have others believe the school library is the heart of the school then we need to make efforts to ensure that this is the case. Professional development provides opportunities for lifelong learning that can inform and teach us how to do this. As school library staff we are strategically positioned to make a difference in the school dynamic.
(Bebbington, Goldfinch & Taylor, 2016)
It was my job to not only maintain my expertise and repertoire of skills with growing demand, it is my role to continually raise the capacity of the staff in my school, and often beyond in my board, my region, my province and further. Building a network of peers and professional partnerships to support this continual risk-taking, assists me in summoning the courage to do this work each day.
Why should teacher-librarians self-direct their professional development?
Leading Learning reminds me to:
Create a vision for library learning commons. Study the professional research, evidence and literature on this approach to school wide learning. Examine current pedagogical studies and weave key ideas into the elements of a learning commons to deepen understanding. Engage the entire school: teachers, students and other members of the community in study and renewal.
which is no small task. When I first started to tackle this call to action in 2009, I began to connect with the least stressful PD opportunities I could find. The Ontario School Library Association (OSLA) ran a 3-day workshop at York University in Toronto that year funded through the Ontario Teachers’ Federation (OTF) Summer Institute program. Being in a rural area, travel costs and accommodations are often a barrier for me to participate face-to-face, but OTF funds accommodation in conjunction with this program. 2009 was the first time I heard about “The Learning Commons” through learning leaders Ruth Hall and Diana Maliszewski. I immediately felt that three days wasn’t enough learning for me, and started to think about graduate programming. Professor Dianne Oberg describes the challenge of pursuing higher learning in the studies of school library:
Three kinds of school library education continue to be offered in Canada: diploma programs, i.e., specialist courses offered at the undergraduate level; Additional Qualifications (AQ) programs; and master’s programs (MEd or MLIS). Graduate level study in librarianship generally provides the most extensive preparation for evaluation work, through a required research methods course and/or through courses on evidence-based practice. Continuing professional education in evaluation work can be accessed through professional reading, conferences, professional development workshops, and personal learning networks (PLNs).
Following Diana’s lead, I signed up and was slated to begin my M.Ed. with a focus on school library at the University of Alberta, part-time for the next four years. Although I self-funded the tuition and book costs, learning online fit my lifestyle, and learning part-time while working meant that the time commitment was manageable. I was eligible for a tuition tax credit, and my board gives a Master’s degree bonus annually, so it was worth it. This program blew the roof of my expectations and one of its major achievements was to bring together school library educators from across the country. Whenever I felt dumbfounded by a particular challenge at work, I asked my classmates, and together we had rich discussions to propose possible solutions. The truth is that I didn’t know what to do with myself when I finished the program, as I thought I would never find that level of dialogue and learning again.
Jumping forward to this year, I had the fortune of teaching our grade 12 creative writing class. This elective class is unique in the school in that it is essentially teaching the creative process, and many of my students were starting this learning from scratch. I jumped into another fully-online Additional Qualifications (AQ) course, officially adding Writing Part 1 to my Ontario teaching certificate. Even though there was pressure to complete assignments within timelines again, I really appreciated carving out the dedicated time and attention to the practice of writing through my teacher and mentor Tina Ginglo. The best part about doing a formal course is that I’m encouraged to create reflective artifacts like this one:
In the AQ course, each of these points in the reflection is turned into a discussion which invites another part of the professional development process: feedback from peers. Teacher Melissa Jensen describes the richness of working with colleagues on the act of professional development this way: “I learned that I am reliant on feedback and require it to keep me engaged in personal and professional pursuits.” Perhaps as teachers we still value the gold star approval from the school environment, but more than that, teachers crave validation and critique from peers that we hold in high esteem. This feedback cycle of professional development pushes us to our next level.
How should teacher-librarians find sources of professional development?
When funding for professional development dries up within your board or province, there are still viable and valuable options. I’ve taken advantage of some pretty frugal and creative uses of the internet, volunteerism and face-to-face PD opportunities. Part of this turn in attitude means recognizing the need for professional development in others, and then creating the PD that you would like to take advantage of. “Creating opportunities for professional development that are economical (or free) and flexible can potentially increase the number of participants seeking new professional learning opportunities.” (Bebbington, Goldfinch & Taylor, 2016) One such example of this unconference style is the EdCamp movement, which involves finding a local low-cost or free space (often a school), and opening it on Saturday. Well-organized EdCamps involve a full-day of discussions that are lead by the participants. Like-minded people indicate at the start of the day what topics they’d like to discuss, and then find each other. When discussing opportunities for collaborative growth, Leading Learning suggests “Although Professional Learning Communities are created within a school, they may extend beyond its walls, to schools within a board where common experiences are occurring. The power comes from the immediacy of contact and collaboration that takes place as ideas are explored. (p. 37) One of my biggest complaints about attending flashy sleep-away conferences is that their keynotes do not have a grasp on the context of the participants. At EdCamp, the experts are your peers, and the participants help each other to grow. I try annually to participate in my neighbouring board’s EdCamp Waterloo which learning leader Kim Gill diligently organizes. A riff on the format is being organized by the subject association Educational Computer Organization of Ontario (ECOO) which is running its second annual ECOO Camp. The cost to participate is minimal and includes lunch because food is important. Sometimes it’s a box lunch, sometimes it’s potluck, sometimes a food truck is organized to stop by at the opportune moment of appetite. I look forward to increasing my network again, and by presenting, my registration fee is complimentary.
The richest component of school library professional development that is completely free is the volunteerism I engage in through the Ontario School Library Association. Many provincial school library organizations have active online social media accounts, including my beloved Twitter, and websites, and through these sources, I became interested in taking on a greater volunteer role. At first sitting on the OSLA council meant a steep learning curve, but by adopting a philosophy of boldly saying “Yes, I’ll join that committee”, I was immediately entrenched in the process of really making change happen. The council covered my expenses to meet centrally four times per year, attend and advocate for school libraries with faculties of education, plan provincial professional development for school library colleagues and meet with partners like TVO, building online PD through their network TeachOntario. I was thrilled to add an additional two year opportunity to volunteer as OSLA’s co-planner for the Ontario Library Association’s Super Conference in 2018 with Jess Longthorne and again in 2019 with Diana Maliszewski. Part of the planning process means choosing sessions and a keynote speaker to represent a cross-panel spectrum of topics. Working with an elementary expert alongside my secondary contributions ensured that we had something for everyone in our conference offerings, but personally allowed me to better understand the range of work that school library staff undertake from kindergarten to graduation. The documentation of work on council rarely involves more than minutes or action items, but the legacy of this work resonates across the province. In one Treasure Mountain Canada paper, library faculty Peggy Lunn describes the necessity of joining your provincial school library organization: “Without an ongoing professional affiliation with OSLA, and with evidence that there is minimal engagement in action research with other faculty or the teacher librarian community, this group [school library staff] will not have opportunities within their immediate professional environment to become more acutely aware of the issues surrounding School Libraries.” (2014) What I have learned by volunteering for OSLA, can’t be taught in education school or online in an AQ. One of those takeaways from my experience is that providing professional development for colleagues is paramount to understanding the function of the school library. Lunn continues to say “…the annual OLA Super Conference offers a highly tenable, sustainable mechanism to enable ongoing collaboration between more groups within the School Library Community of Learners.” (2014) Many action research projects have begun or have been continued through this conference in particular, therefore I can assume that this level of engagement is happening across Canada in similar venues.
One of these venues that continually pushes me to my next level is Treasure Mountain Canada. Prompted by the fearless Liz Kerr, I submitted my first paper to Treasure Mountain Canada in 2012. It was essentially the capping paper to my M.Ed. but the addictive quality of hanging out for 36 hours with this incomparable group of school library peers in Canada, has prompted me to submit each time. The comment I usually hear when asking others to consider submitting is that the formality of the paper seems too daunting. Looking at the other papers online in the Canadian School Libraries Research Archive will help hesitant contributors to recognize that some of the papers are part of formal learning, whereas others are presentations or artifacts from other examples of professional learning communities. Teacher-librarian Caroline Freibauer , for example, used Treasure Mountain Canada to share her work from a grant program called the Teacher Learning and Leadership Program (TLLP). As part of their work, Caroline invited Dr. David V. Loertscher and Carol Koechlin to lead their inquiry project using the Learn by Doing Model. Although Caroline was thinking about working with her colleagues in an action research project when she used this diagram, the model fits how I think about engaging with Treasure Mountain Canada.
In imagining and developing my own action research questions, doing a review of literature and going the extra step to share these findings widely, I deepen my understanding of my own process and my achievements in trying to answer the original research question. Our provincial school library document Together for Learning (2010), suggests that one of the key methodologies in transforming from a school library to a library learning commons that by “Tracking the Transformation: Gathering data, analyzing it and communicating ideas within the school and across professional networks will help to guide, facilitate, and assess change. By using the tools of Evidence-Based Practice and Professional Learning Communities, the school will be assisted in transforming into an effective Learning Commons and be provided with evaluation criteria and results.” (p. 36) Documenting the learning process in ourselves and in our work helps to solidify our progress towards our goals.
Since the last Treasure Mountain Canada, I’ve been thinking a lot about developing the cultural responsiveness of my library learning commons. Pat Trottier, who submitted a paper in 2017 declares her own goals in this area: “We wanted to establish a culturally responsive education for our students and develop a learning environment that promoted success for all students. We continued to work on tolerance and empathy and celebrating our diversity.” (Trottier, 2017) Some of the best resources I’ve found to help me in my journey are completely free and online. I rely on the wealth of reading material that the Amnesty International Canada Book Club provides through its website and discussion activity on social media site GoodReads. In writing to them they’ve developed special spine label graphics for me that I use in our collection, and provide discussion guides for each of their book recommendations. Another emerging star is the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD) held in Brampton, Ontario each year. The FOLD festival provides monthly reading challenges that prompt my own exploration beyond my comfort zone.
These reading suggestions have prompted us to start a staff book club exploring one title together for a few months and meeting regularly to discuss our progress. Together for Learning (2010) suggests that a goal of transforming the learning commons philosophy should be: “Fostering a reading community: Building a physical and virtual collection of professional reading materials and websites …Facilitating professional learning communities” (p. 17). We have begun to take group field trips to hear related speakers or the author. We’ve started to include other schools in our book club as word of our success spreads. I often supplement my own learning and the discussions with staff with further resources from TVOand podcasts from VoicEd Canada to provide new perspectives and to deepen the conversation. All of these organizations together achieve inclusivity by bringing disparate perspectives together and highlighting methodology when facing challenges in education.
In revisiting the purpose of this article, I aim to offer readers hope and this small sampling of resources for you to consider accessing no matter the context that you find yourself in over the coming days. Whenever I feel tossed about by the whims of change, I try to stay grounded in answering my own inquiry questions in pursuit of elevating my learning within the standards of our profession. Rather than becoming lost at sea, I pull into the safe harbour of professional development, and I am reassured by these opportunities that are presented for my own growth.
I had visions about what this book would be like…an action adventure of bibliophiles in northwest Africa…..and the beginning and ending were very much that. I longed to immerse myself in distant culture and glean new understanding of the cultural nuances of Mali….and there was that too. I even spent time scouring documentaries to see if the pictures in my head matched reality. But most of this book was a tough slog through military history of the circuitous chase of jihadi terrorists who threatened the ancient manuscripts’ well-being. Now if details of which weapons were used to hold whole villages hostage are your cup of tea, then you’re going to love this book….but I found these parts to be real slogs. Still it’s a story that needs to be told and needs to be heard, and I know a lot more now then I did before reading it.
It’s a lark….and possibly too formulaic. McCullough has multiple points of view as she narrates the story of 4 sisters who enter nurse training in order to try on work and be rid of their stepmother. From there the plots deviate but all during post WW1 Australia just as women are making daring life choices. It’s disappointingly not nearly as scandalous The Thorn Birds but the author is still a master of making moments linger….my favourite is during a delicious first embrace. Lovely and light like icing without much cake.
Last Thursday night, I attended a 2 hour session for parents of autistic children, run by one of our local support providers, Kerry’s Place, titled: Planning for Transition to Adulthood. Our son is 14, in grade 9, and as the presenters said, “it’s an optimal time to start planning.” The room was set up poorly with yucky flourescent lighting, a variety of chairs, and some flip up tables. Bottled water, and chocolate chip cookies were offered but most people had brought their Tim’s. The projector was mounted in a way that made the size of the screen about 36 x24, and a ream of handouts were given to us.
So when I say “our local”, I mean that Kerry’s Place is one of really 2 providers that can offer my family anything as we live in Elora, Ontario. It hasn’t always been this way. [insert a brief history on Autism funding changes in Ontario since diagnosis.] Our son was diagnosed when he was in grade 2, at the age of 7. It was a long time coming, and we did it privately, structuring the payments for the required psycho-educational assessment over two calendar years. At the time, he was diagnosed with PDD-NOS which stands for Pervasive Developmental Disorder (Not otherwise specified). Then the definition of autism changed (around 2013) and the amount of funding for autism didn’t increase, but the umbrella that we were all standing under got a little smaller. That’s not quite the right analogy…we were hopeful that with an all-encompassing definition that support for autism would be more generalized but more plentiful. But really what everyone needs is a different umbrella, after all if you’ve met one person with autism….you’ve met one person with autism.
Services at this time became more centralized….and that means focused on cities. I get it, I really do, it’s a numbers game. But at the same time, specialized groups in schools, or local camps for students, started to evaporate. It’s a really old, really hard-to-win argument….should we integrate or should we offer specialized programming? Our board, for example, has tried to make each school able to support its local students with autistic needs. Yet, the hubs in the schools for autistic students have disappeared.
Right now, our family has been on the waiting list for 2 1/2 years for ABA treatment. He has received two sessions since his diagnosis, and his spectrum traits are not severe at all. We compensate by trying to find awesome, autism-supporting groups in the community where he can be himself, and get some social experience. But the needs are still there. Needs like finding others like himself. He says “Being with people who are not on the spectrum, is like eating toast without the butter.” That’s a direct quote. I feel like I’m always telling my son who he could be, and he needs opportunities to develop his own identity and to recognize his strengths for advocacy, for education, for employment.
Thursday’s workshop was quite intimidating. As our son moves from 14 to 18, the programming becomes further away from us geographically. We’ll need to think about education, transportation, legal rights to care/intervention, housing, all the things you normally need to think about preparing for an empty nest….except I’ll always be thinking: will he survive or thrive in this environment? Having local, continuous support, will be one of those key pieces that make the difference. We learned in our workshop about critical funding supports for each of these that will require hours of preparation and planning, priming and probably panic for each of our children to be the best version of them as adults.
With the proposed changes to autism funding, to both communities and the absorption by our publicly-funded schools, we are facing dire consequences. You see, the programs and funding for children with autism are already lacking if not non-existent, especially in Centre Wellington, so cuts will just mean impossible situations for families.
This summer, I am reaching a little further for a suitable summer camp as our local one has been cancelled…again. The camp I’m looking at looks absolutely fantastic, with a 1:3 ratio of counsellors to campers, but the cost, even for a double-income family like ours, might be prohibitive. I called our local office of Child and Family Services to inquire about funding maybe in a loophole under ‘child care’ or ‘support services’, and it doesn’t exist. The camp itself gave me a list of charities that might help with funding and I will diligently go through them one by one asking, explaining, and hoping. But can you imagine if I wasn’t a persistent, educated parent or if my son’s needs were greater or if I had more than one child with special needs or if I couldn’t drive let alone summon the courage to write all those emails? With each variable, the severity of this lack of funding is compounded. There were people at our meeting who had driven for 2 hours to be there….it’s offered in a central area, once a year. Can you imagine the vast array of reasons that might make the parent of an autistic child unable to attend that meeting?
Post script: I have to recommend that you read the book: Neurotribes by author Steve Silberman http://stevesilberman.com/book/neurotribes/— It’s available by audiobook as well as in print, and if, like me, you do a lot of travelling, then the audiobook is very digestible. I’ve never read a more complete book on autism and the challenges that society faces going forward than in this book.
UPDATE: On July 17, 2019 this post was picked up by Doug Peterson’s weekly podcast called This Week in Ontario Edublogs as one of the featured blog posts related to special education in Ontario. Listen here:
Is there anything more sad than a bed half-empty that was once half-full? The thought came rolling around in Aria’s mind every time she approached her bed at night. Likewise when she rolled over each morning to stare at the space where her left arm now fell lifeless, daring to expand across the halfway point that used to separate her from her Theo. With Theo’s absence, her body had started to wander into this space usually reserved for him, but she couldn’t shake the guilt that she was encroaching on his territory even though he wasn’t there to occupy it.
There was a time when Aria looked forward to Theo’s trips, having the bed to herself for one, but also being able to choose the simple differences like eating only what she wanted for dinner, and going for a walk with her hound, Laela, on her schedule. Aria felt the sun’s warmth before she saw it knowing that it was slowly clearing away the night’s cold sea fog. She summoned the courage to open her eyes, yawn and pull her nightgown down past her waist where it had crept up to in her slumber. She moved barefoot across the floor to his chair, the one with the best view of the ocean crashing on the rocks below. The woolen throw that he often kept nearby had lost his scent after only a few weeks but still Aria wrapped herself in it, tugging the corners under her chin, inhaling deeply to find the fragrance of his musk. Only the stronger tug of goat hair came through though, and the emptiness left her feeling chilled despite the weight of the heavy blanket.
Aria picked at a few dates and seeds on a nearby plate having abandoned the rich cheese and bread noshes that she had indulged in when Theo first left. Instead her fingers moved to the knitting beside her, a blanket that she had begun to add another layer to the bed dressing now that rainy season was approaching, and in an effort to bring back the same cozy feeling when Theo was home. Soon the click click of her needles increased in speed with each stitch beginning to match the tide rolling in, her breathing keeping pace and her mind contentedly occupied with this satisfying mechanical action.
In this lull, Aria became aware of a bell ringing, a strong dull sound masked by the distance and at first Aria wasn’t sure that she was hearing anything at all. Doubting her own senses, she tried to continue her work but couldn’t concentrate having been distracted by the sound, she couldn’t. The fisherwoman had already brought her the weekly supply of food yesterday. Her mother-in-law had not written of a possible visit. Who could be approaching the island and why? Sighing with irritation, Aria rose from her chair, and moved to put on a gown in case a visitor actually was on the way. Slipping into her simple leather sandals, she grabbed the woolen throw and opened the door for Laela to bark her way down to the pier.
This week I finished my volunteer stint as co-planner for the Ontario School Library Association, which for a rough estimate, is about 100 hours per year. As one of the best volunteer experiences of my life, I’d like to take you through why it’s such a fine way to give your time back to your profession. The Ontario Library Association celebrated its 25th anniversary of this conference this year and so it has honed the craft of finding and retaining volunteers to a fine art. Here’s what they do really well to make sure their volunteers are happy.
There’s a legacy structure to the planning committee so that 1/2 are returning to plan a 2nd year, and the other 1/2 are new to the role. My senior co-planner Jess Longthorne in 2018, and my junior co-planner Diana Maliszewski in 2019 are both elementary teacher-librarians. Having this diversity in our team helped us to better cover the full spectrum of needs. Collaboration is hard work and I would always prefer to parallel play but this enforced structure helped me grow in my ability to communicate and share ideas.
Advocacy to supervisors
Without any question whatsover, OLA provided a letter and 5 paid supply days to my principal to cover my 5 absences for this planning.
Fancy red vests
Each of the 23 Superconference co-planners was loaned a red vest to wear from sunset on Tuesday to sundown on Friday and we wore them with pride. I felt like part of an elite club, or a magnificent unit mobilizing to make OLASC perfection.
Biology needs taken care of or at the ready
I had a glorious hotel room onsite at the Superconference. Whenever I was hungry, there was good healthy food. My car was safe and dry. Whether it was at the 2 days of planning we did at the OLA office, or at HQ at the conference itself, I was well-fed, comfortable and my sense of security was a priority.
I felt enormous responsibility in choosing sessions and our spotlight speakers for the Superconference. We wanted quality and edge. We wanted diversity and inclusivity. We wanted to have a fabulously rich experience for each attendee. Michelle Arbuckle and her team had a number of strategies for helping us ideate and design just such a schedule. At the same time, we were given freedom to develop the conference theme within our own context and to choose speakers that matched our own vision.
Even before we began, we were given a schedule to follow for the whole year. We were told which meetings would be face-to-face and what our goals would be. This really helped me to stay on track and once I added them to a Google Calendar, it helped us remember to check in with one another.
In the moment at Superconference, even enormous amounts of pre-planning can’t prepare you for everything. We used Slack to build channels where we could ask for help and receive it at a moment’s notice. Because we had this reliable help structure, we took greater creative risks. For example, Diana and I worked this year to bring in Stephen Hurley from VoicEd.ca to podcast some of our sessions. Stephen just needed a quick lesson from the tech people to get started. In another moment, Peter Skillen from Code to Learn offered free books for all OSLA participants but we had to get those books from one floor to another. No problem, people helped us anticipate how to make that flow from floor to floor.
Our only instruction really is to: show up, make sure everything goes smoothly and sometimes, make sure everyone is having fun. So I really enjoyed taking the conference theme seriously and dragging my costume out for the welcome party, or making sure I had a 90s song ready for karaoke.
Someone to tug at the end of the leash and reign me back in
There are these awkward/funny moments when Michelle (both years in a row), wants us to all show up and look shiny for a group photo, or drink champagne en masse, or lead the fun at one of the socials. Having these scheduled times to show up as a red vest collective really helped us to signal to conference attendees that this is where you can be welcome and be social. For a group of introverts (or at best ambiverts), this is a really important part of the superconference.
A reasonable bedtime
All of our social events ended at 10 pm. Lord knows that I am not great at self-regulation and can be too easily persuaded to push myself to the edge, so having limits set for me is wonderful. I felt no pressure at all to stay out too late by the official ending of a social event.
…is my favourite meal of the day and 2 of the 3 mornings of Superconference I had a planned breakfast meeting. More groups should do meetings this way. Here’s your energy, here’s what you need to know, now go forth and make awesome things happen for everyone else all day.
A little music goes a long way
There were moments where my feet were telling me that they just couldn’t go on, and then someone would play some funky tunes and I found my next wind.
Have an exit plan
The plan is for all superconference planners that you’ll do it twice. Knowing that there is a finite ending has really helped me prepare emotionally for this post-planners trough. I’m sort of sad that I won’t be able to hang out all the time with the new friends I’ve met on the planning committee, but I’m also looking forward to remembering what I did before. Heck I might even blog more often. I can feel myself thinking to warn incoming OSLA Superconference planner Kate Johnson-McGregor about Diana’s total lack of focus (I mean who drops to their knees to create a poster in the middle of a sandbox?) but the fun in volunteering in a collaborative format, is to find out these things for yourself. Volunteering for the Ontario Library Association has been a rich journey in my own professional development as a school library leader and as an agent of change.
I’ll just close with this dangerous sentiment:
I’m available now for new volunteering opportunities. But I should warn you, I’ve had the best so my standards are pretty high.
Waking up to more cutbacks in #ontEd funding is never fun. So I decided to look at the data. This post is all about the different ways I developed professionally in 2018. There were so many great happenings around the province this year. It never ceases me to amaze me the passion that Ontario educators have for generating their own professional development, voluntarily with a little help from organizations to cover classrooms, and provide accommodation and transportation. In an effort to be radically transparent, I’m going to try to use these hashtags so you can see where the funding comes for me to be able to participate in these events:
#self-funded = one way or another I usually provide transportation, accommodation, registration, resources for myself in order to be able to attend. I need idealistic people in my life in order to take the creative risks that I do so for me, it’s worth it. #babyI’mworthit
#OLA = Ontario Library Association, I have volunteered for the Ontario School Library Association (my school library subject association) for 5 years now.
#UGDSB = The Upper Grand District School Board does backflips to try to make sure that its staff are well-supported. I love working here. As a weirdo school-librarian, eLearning teacher I have lots of strangely specific needs for PD and UGDSB always helps me somehow.
#OTF = Ontario Teachers’ Federation is invaluable as a resource for professional development.
#OSSTF = Ontario Secondary Schools’ Teachers’ Federation is the union representing many education sectors in Ontario including teachers. They have started to really recognize their value as providers of professional development in a new, reinvigorated way. I like this direction a lot!
Of course we have to start with the incomparable work done by the Ontario Library Association’s Superconference in January 2019. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to volunteer as OSLA’s co-planner for 2018 with Jess Longthorne and again in 2019 with Diana Maliszewski. Having an elementary expert alongside my deviant secondary brain has made a marvellous madness of Superconference elements. There’s something for everyone. I’m really really looking forward to our line up of outstanding school library speakers, our inaugural OLA Sandbox of makers and maker strategies, and our OSLA Spotlight speaker Chelsea Klukas. #OLA
My board UGDSB Applied Strategy workshops with Sandra Herbst involved 4 release days to work with consultants and the incomparable SH to appeal to our applied-level students through strategies on the triangulation of assessment. Having this time to hyperfocus helped my school create valuable tools and shifts in thinking towards using conversation and observation more effectively each teaching day. #UGDSB
I completed a webinar series from Edugains and Brian Weishar on inference with my colleagues in the UGDSB. It was so rich and so informative that it has immediately become part of my teaching practice both in the classroom and as part of my school library program. Brian must spend hours making these webinars as they are hugely interactive and use all sorts of critical thinking activities. I can’t find the webinars anywhere on the Edugains website, but there are some inference resources. Better yet: here’s Brian’s blog. #self-funded I was able to take some of these great ideas and share them with UGDSB’s literacy leaders because our own UGDSB optimist Sandy Kritzer believes in me. #UGDSB
I have to let you know that there is this secret underground lair where professional development is happening called VoicEd Canada and it is awesome. My guru who lead me here is Stephen Hurley and although he does a lot of the work, he is joined by amazing educators across the country! There’s always something going on and their podcasts are archived. Hello! Archive your stuff people so we can use it later!! #self-funded
The first shoutout to the Ontario Teachers’ Federation for their series of webinars called OTF Connects. I have participated in numerous webinars but the quality of the content in these is generally wonderful. I even tried one myself! Big thanks to Trish Morgan for keeping this resource alive for Ontario educators. #OTF
My own union OSSTF has done some remarkable re-engagement work for its members this year. As someone who has served on my branch’s executive every year since 2000, this important work needs to be supported, and I really appreciate the way that District 18 has held rejuvenating local workshops for its members. #OSSTF
As an elearning teacher in the UGDSB, I am really well taken care of. Sean Hamilton and Pam Eurig recognize that we are doing ground-breaking work to make online learning a viable and dynamic experience for students. They even convinced the fabulous Todd Pottle to visit Guelph one day. able supported to attend both the CONNECT conference and the BOLTT conference each year. Both conferences offer different foci for different audiences. ELearning is best supported at BOLTT but CONNECT’s work is better-grounded in the research. #UGDSB #self-funded
I’m still fondly remembering the work done by the Ontario Teachers’ Federation on their 2 day Wellness conference in the spring. I learned a lot about self-preservation, balance and remembering that every interaction with students can make a difference in their mental health. Highlights: dancing my understanding of support networks with Leigha Turner and Jenn Coleman #OTF
I am thrilled by the success of our ODSS staff summer book club reading Eden Robinson’s Son of a Trickster. UGDSB’s own Colinda Clyne has been very gracious in provoking and promoting FNMI voices and she provided us with many many books this year. She even visited one of our meetings and brought cookies. #rockstar It was so successful that we also co-read Tanya Talaga’s Seven Fallen Feathers. I have hopes that this will continue in 2019, possibly starting with The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, who visits Brampton’s Rose Theatre in February 2019. #UGDSB #self-funded
Presenting at PB4T
Presenting at PB4T
Presenting at PB4T
Presenting at PB4T
Presenting at PB4T
Presenting at PB4T
All the PB4T participants having breakfast. Me up front!
Presenting at PB4T
Presenting at PB4T
Peter Skillen and Brenda Sherry at PB4T
Kim Gill’s keynote at PB4T
A participant’s sketchnote of Kim Gill’s PB4T keynote
This is the 3rd year that I have presented at the Ontario Teachers’ Federation Pedagogy B4 Technology conference, in Markham, Ontario and I thrilled to do it. This conference’s focus on the practice of teaching with the use of technological tools is just right for it’s length, breadth and optimism! I look forward to it because the questions and the speakers really motivate me to focus inwards on my own educational values, and I return to my school feeling rejuvenated and ready for action. #OTF
I was so motivated and enthused by the idea that I was stepping back into the classroom again as the new creative writing teacher at ODSS, that I INSANELY signed up to take Tina Ginglo‘s Writing Part 1 AQ through York University. I’m only insane because of the time commitment not because the course isn’t AWESOME. And this awesomeness is what got me through because as a veteran teacher of 21 years, I STILL learned something and was thrilled to have time to focus on my teaching practice of writing itself, to gather new resources, and to develop really practical tools for teaching writing. Thank you Tina! #self-funded
I’m the goat at Minds on Media at the BIT18 conference
Kim Gill at BIT18
Presenting at BIT18
Presenting at BIT18
Presenting at BIT18
Presenting at BIT18
Presenting at BIT18
I have admired the work of ECOO for years and they have propelled me into being that person at school that people rely on for innovation and technical support. Imagine a world where self-professed geeks and nerds want to show you their cool stuff for 3 days and you have, what is now known as the, Bring IT Together conference. My favourite day is the first one, where you get to hyperfocus on hands-on learning in workshops that are 1/2 day. This year I chose to work on 2 topics: gamification using BreakoutEDU and computational thinking through knitting. I learned so much from Kim Gill and Lisa Noble and I am still working on these ideas. I usually apply to present so that my registration is subsidized but this is harder to do each year without additional support. #self-funded #UGDSB
What’s next in 2019? We’ll see. I know, as well as you do, that we’re entering leaner times. I wanted to write this post to remind myself as well as you that there are many many opportunities for PD. Just because we can’t always get together face-to-face doesn’t mean that we can’t learn.
All the best for a happy new year of professional development.
What are the components of a great writing program for students?
A great writing program for students has structure and freedom, allows for choice but also sets parameters, it teaches technique and reliable devices but allows for discovery while building skills and discipline. It needs to use models for writing that stretch the horizons of the students and also has a diverse set of cultural and historical texts to appeal to student interests and contexts. It needs to involve the full cycle of the writing process on more than one occasion and also at different depth levels. It needs to promote analysis and self-metacognition.
Assessment allows for students to repeat a process multiple times to see growth in key areas throughout the semester. Assessment needs to be personalized and measure individual growth over time. It needs to allow for students to develop a portfolio of best work but should emphasize process as much as product.
It should allow for collaborative work manifesting a classroom culture of trust and reliance among students. Peer assessment and feedback that is timely and constructively critical should be the goal. Multiple modes of expression using various levels of technology should be promoted. Above all various community experts and authentic audiences should be employed to heighten the authenticity of the writing program.
These are the goals I aim to hit every day in my writing program. I don’t always hit a a bulls-eye, but my aim is true.
Eden Robinson you have created such delicious characters. If Jared or Georgina or any of them knocked at my door and said, “There’s an emergency! The coy wolves are eating the dolphin people and they need your help!” I’d shape-shift into my amphibious alter-ego, take their hands and jump into another dimension. I want to believe and Robinson’s books have helped him get closer than ever.
Jared’s enemies are worthy of his gradual transformation in that they are both based in a harsh reality and so unspeakably evil that they must be fantastical. As Jared realizes his true self and increasingly gravitates towards magic, the revenge that the reader seeks becomes enticingly like a feast laid out on a table.
I devoured this sequel after picking it up like a true fangirl at one of Robinson’s more corporeal visits in Oakville last month. You know when you’re reading a great book and it calls to you when you have to leave it to go back to reality? This is that book.
I hope Ms. Robinson gets to hang out with these authors, and if not, maybe we could arrange a party in her honour and I could simply serve canapes while eavesdropping on their banter. I am going to get everything else she’s ever written, right now.
A set of this book was generously purchased for our school by our First Nations, Metis and Inuit (FNMI)consultant at the board office. 5 pages into it many of our teachers were too scared to teach it and put it down. Boldly daring to say “You can’t scare me!” Eden Robinson, I read the whole thing ….you know, with my ‘I love reading anything fantasy’ brain, not with my ‘I run a secondary school library and must consider my sensitive audience’ brain. And I loved it! Would I teach it to a whole class at once? No. But we summoned our courage to offer it as a selection to senior level English classes in a literature circle format, and it was chosen, read and students loved it.
And who wouldn’t? There’s a healthy amount of crass language, for sure, but that shouldn’t keep readers away from Robinson’s rich characters and the trouble that Jared encounters.
As an FNMI choice, Robinson introduces us to some Heiltsuk beliefs but not in an instructional way. I mean, I feel enticed to know more about the culture but not in a way that is pedantic or alienating. As a reader, I’ve been invited to participate in an immersive cultural experience set in modern day but with timeless implications for these stories. I think this approach will also be appealing to readers.
After hearing Robinson speak this month in Oakville, I hope she would be happy to learn that this book doesn’t belong in an FNMI canon of literature but instead as part of a canon of great writing. As someone who enjoys fantasy fiction, who is open to new ideas, cultures and language, and as someone who certainly wants to understand truth and be part of reconciliation, I highly recommend this book.
I am the Head of the Library and Learning Commons at my secondary school, and that means I work 4/6 in the library, 1/6 in a EWC 4C/4U classroom, and 1/6 in a fully online ENG4C class. I have held this role since 2010 with variations on which classes I teach. So my year as the school librarian is divided between
a) making sure that the library has a culture reflecting the learning commons philosophy b) advocating for the use of technology in the classroom and helping students and staff do this and
c) making sure that students and staff are using everything that is available to them for inquiry-based research.
As Head of the Library and Learning Commons, I additionally go to every staff and department head meeting and I am the Literacy Lead for our school planning all interventions for our standardized literacy test in grade 10. As you can imagine, this work keeps me hopping!
If you’re new to the learning commons shift, then you’ll find both really interesting. If you’re already shifting your school culture to include learning commons then jump to Leading Learning, because I talk to my principal all the time using this sort of rubric to say “This is where we are and this is where we need to get to”.
The Manitoba School Library Association is PHENOMENAL) and is really pushing boundaries in your province. Tomorrow is National School Library Day in Manitoba Canada and Manitoba’s provincial parliament will be reading a bilingual address about the importance of school libraries for student success. Oh that we could make this happen nationwide.
A smaller ask then….
Would you please have a conversation or write a letter to someone with power and/or influence to make sure that the work and necessity of school libraries is valued and recognized? Across Canada we need to have equitable staffing and per-pupil budgeting models in all publicly funded schools. We need to have diverse print and digital resources available for all staff and students. We need to recognize that the literacy work of school library staff is foundational for student success. We need to have school libraries open during and beyond school hours to allow for the messiness of robust inquiry-based projects.
I am so thankful for my devoted library teaching partner and my wonderful library technician. I am so thankful for a principal and a school board that recognizes the value of this work. Celebrate with me! To school libraries across Canada!
After reading Reading and Writing: The Golden Ticket, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on my role as both teacher-librarian and Literacy Lead in my job. The article is very stimulating if you’ve got a minute.
I really felt motivated by the article from the Globe and Mail, and although I know this course is about writing, my current passion for helping students in my school become proficient on the OSSLT, is to focus on their reading. Very often we put our attention on the output, writing, but the really tricky part for secondary teachers in particular, is to focus on reading, or the input of language ideas.
I’m the Literacy Lead in my school and this is a fairly new role for me in that I’m taking this lead position for the 2nd year.. What that looks like is that I’m designing the literacy interventions that we’re going to make happen for our grade 9s and 10s this year. We know that we’re hitting a fairly consistent 81% success rate with our test results (above board and province average) but this doesn’t seem to make a difference for the other 19%.
19%. 19%. 19% .
I say that over and over again because that’s nearly 1 in 5 of our students. The administration seems to only be concerned with looking good on paper and we’re 1 of 3 schools in our board who raised a % in our success rate. The rest is up to me to make happen.
We have an early intervention course, similar to what is described in the article that is run in grade 9 who are deemed at-risk by their grade 8 teachers. Unfortunately this course is often taught by brand new teachers or teachers who lack the commitment to the continuity of this crucial piece because they’re LTOs. I wish that someone like the senior English teachers, would teach it instead. I asked if I could teach it and they gave me creative writing grade 12 instead. Not that it’s a horrible trade-off but you have to go where you’re needed, right? More on creative writing in another post.
I had the blessing of funding and support to do a research project about 7 years ago which allowed me to test my hypothesis that grade 9 literacy intervention would prevent behaviour and lack of school engagement later in high school. This is about the time when school to age 18 became mandatory in our province. So what I did is I took aside students from a data point of view and thoroughly examined their Ontario Student Records (OSRs). I found that the one thing they were most likely to have in common is that there was some sort of family trauma around grade 4 or 5. A divorce, a death in the family, an illness, or an injury that derailed that poor kid in grade 4 or 5 affected their literacy path for the rest of their academic career. Not surprisingly then, when we were able to do a Woodcock-Johnson test on 20 of these students, they came out as having reading skills stunted at about a grade 4 or 5 reading level. As the teacher-librarian in chief at my school, I developed relationships with these students and peppered them with literacy attention from my end. That could be individualized help on their assignments, or simply convincing them that reading all 25 volumes of The Walking Dead was a worthy pursuit. Many of them shook my hand as they walked out the door upon graduation. It was very satisfying. In fact, I think I’d say that it has changed the way I think about literacy forever.
If I had to pick a winning bet on where to put the most money in Ontario’s education system today, I’d put everything down on literacy in Ontario at the intermediate level. It is the golden ticket.
My love affair with Mindomo continues. Here I am trying to explore the Ontario College of Teachers’ Standards of Practice. I’m focusing here on just one of these standards: Ongoing Professional Learning.
This is my favourite book that I’ve read this year HANDS DOWN. It first came to my attention because I enjoy reading from the Ontario Library Association’s Evergreen book list each year. I enjoyed the audiobook version through Audible as Hernandez narrates her own book. I listen to audiobooks a lot on my commute to and from work, but this summer, I used the audiobook to motivate me as I was weeding my garden. I found myself, on more than one occasion, weeping openly in my yard.
It’s a small but mighty hyperfocus on a neighbourhood in Scarborough, Ontario. It centres around the a Family Literacy centre which feels so real that I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Catherine Hernandez has done this work before, which is to say, scraping together a program and creating a culture of welcome using virtually nothing at all. The families that come and go each come to the centre for a different reason, and each child has unique challenges. 3 children’s lives, in particular, are emphasized: Bing, Sylvie and Laura. Through their lives, Hernandez calls the reader to attention and reveals the crucial necessity of outreach programming.
The book is so poignant, so concise, as if no words are wasted. The overlapping timelines, character development and continuous threads allow the reader to see cause and effect repeat with often catastrophic results. Hernandez masterfully builds hope and then thwarts it with a harsh blow of reality, making each development really earn its place in building to the conclusion.
It turns out that Hernandez splits her time between writing and the theatre which maybe why I can tell that we’re kindred spirits. This book could easily be staged or turned into a film. The images in my mind while listening were like a movie. I’ll be following Hernandez’s work and waiting impatiently for the arrival of whatever she’s written. I can’t say enough about the power of this book. Just go get it.
"Even when reading is impossible, the presence of books acquired produces such an ecstasy that the buying of more books than one can read is nothing less than the soul reaching towards infinity ... we cherish books even if unread, their mere presence exudes comfort, their ready access reassurance." - A. Edward Newton